Stephen Chow Sing-chi’s The Mermaid is on its way to becoming mainland China’s highest-grossing film of all time, after smashing Lunar New Year box office records in the mainland and Hong
But critics say the film’s rare success in both Hong Kong and mainland markets is a worrying sign as the city has failed to produce another generation of talent that could live up to Chow, and the on-going Hong Kong-mainland tension will divide movie audiences in the two places further.
The fantasy romantic comedy has grossed more than 2 billion yuan (HK$2.4 billion) in nine days, and industry insiders tipped the film to surpass last year’s record 2.4 billion yuan taken by Monster Hunt. That was the highest-grossing mainland film of all time, a fantasy action comedy directed by Hongkonger Raman Hui.
The Mermaid, produced by Beijing Enlight Pictures and China Film Group, opened on February 8 with 276 million yuan, an opening record for a Chinese-language film in mainland China.
It opened on the same day in Hong Kong an took HK$4.9 million, breaking the HK$4.4 million opening day record that Chow set with his action comedy Kung Fu Hustle. The Mermaid had taken HK$28.1 million as of February 14, just behind this week’s champion Deadpool, which grossed HK$28.9 million.
Critics said the success of The Mermaid, which tells a story revolving around the themes of property hegemony and environmental issues, was a rare case. They said in most cases, films which succeeded in the mainland market failed in the city, even if they were helmed by Hong Kong filmmakers.
Film critic Pierre Lam said politics took centre stage, particularly over the past three years.
Hong Kong-mainland conflicts have been intensified amid Hongkongers’ discontent at Beijing’s increasing control over the city’s affairs and rows over issues such as the influx of mainland tourists and smuggling of baby formula across the border.
“Hong Kong audiences deliberately draw a line between themselves and the mainland audience by having a different taste in films,” Lam said. “The fact that people gave up on Andy Lau Tak-wah’s recent mainland feature was a good example.”
Lam was referring to Lost and Love, a drama starring Lau as a farmer in search of his lost son. The film grossed 218 million yuan on the mainland but only HK$2.2 million in Hong Kong last year, despite starring one of the city’s favourite screen icons.
Film critic Keith Ho said part of The Mermaid’s success was down to its great storytelling. “Mainland movie-goers in their 20s and 30s, like Hongkongers, grew up with watching Chow’s old films on pirated DVDs, and this film also stands for their collective memories,” he said.
But both Lam and Ho said it will be difficult for the Hong Kong industry to succeed Chow, who began his career as a TVB actor.
“The declining local TV industry fails to train a new generation of filmmakers,” Ho said.